A Weekend of Firsts – Yoga at Ethos and the Wings for Life World Run

Blimey – last weekend was a bit of a scorcher wasn’t it? Just the ticket for a yoga class on the third floor of a building in the centre of Cambridge with no air con on Saturday and an endurance run at midday on the Sunday. Wait, what?

Yes, that’s how I spent the hottest weekend of the year so far. So let’s start with Ethos shall we? Based in St Andrew’s House right near Drummer Street, Ethos is tucked away in what at first glance looks like little more than an unremarkable building made up of small offices. As you walk up the stairs though (my sister doesn’t do lifts!) you start to feel a hum of activity and our first introduction to Ethos was a couple of people who had clearly worked up a sweat stretching against a wall in the corridor in a way that meant we had to squeeze past them.

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The interior reception area of Ethos

The reason why Stacy and I had rocked up at Ethos was for a free Myofascial Release class courtesy of – you guessed it – Sweaty Betty. They were hosting a takeover of the studios, securing free spaces for their customers in around 20 classes across the weekend. As a “fan” of the foam roller (we have a love/hate relationship), I was intrigued at the idea of a class dedicated to serious muscle massage. After paying £1 to rent a mat each, we both got changed in the curtained off changing area (if you like your privacy this set up may not be for you), left our less valuable belongings on the shelves (ditto if you’re hot on security and like a proper locker) and headed into the class with Ellie and Hannah from SB.

When I saw some class members in very little clothing lying down in awkward positions with bean bags on their eyes, I did wonder what I had gotten myself into. But as soon as our instructor Mark got going I quickly relaxed into the class. And boy did I learn a lot. I got tips on how to better foam roll my calves (sit on your knees and tuck the foam roller under your thighs with it resting on your calves and then lean back as much as you can bear. Inch the roller down and repeat), how to ease my hips (once I had finally jammed my thumb in the right place) and how to use tennis balls to seriously massage my spine. I admit that resting my forehead on a tennis ball at the end felt more than a little weird and left me with a hard to explain mark on my face, but on the whole this was a brilliant class.

If I’m completely honest, I’m not sure if I really gelled with the vibe of Ethos as a whole. I think my personality is generally a bit too highly strung (I like my sports places to have proper changing rooms and showers and can be a bit OCD on hygiene stuff) but it’s clear to me what the main draw of Ethos is – and that’s the instructors. Mark was absolutely brilliant, cracking jokes all through the class and putting everyone at ease, but also showing that he really knew his stuff. He took the time to make sure everyone was getting the most from each move, correcting and advising where necessary. Stacy and I both left the class armed with tips, raving about Mark, and feeling lighter in the legs. Which would bode well for the Wings for Life World Run which I was due to do at midday the following day…….

Official runs make me nervous. Everyone knows this. Running in the heat makes me even MORE nervous. So you can imagine what a mess I was in when I arrived at Parker’s Piece on Sunday morning at around 10:30am, ready to register before the race started at midday. The car had told us it was already 27 degrees, so with 90 minutes to go there was plenty of time for it to get even hotter. I’m really fair, so I had slathered myself in factor 50 ALL OVER (you can never be too sure!) before getting dressed, but as I queued twice (once to sign a disclaimer, again to get my race number) I could feel myself already starting to get a bit too much sun.

After bumping into my friend Jen (another fan of the legend that is Alan Baldock), I quickly lost her again when I went to The Regal pub to pee (much more sensible than joining an enormous queue for the portaloos which are less than pleasant in that heat).  As I started to panic that I would have to face this behemoth of a run on my own, I found Miranda and Ros from Ely Runners sensibly sitting in the shade, and from then on in I stuck to the poor sods like glue. I would like to say now that I owe the pair of them a debt of gratitude, from Ros making me feel ok to be a nervous run pee-er, to the pair of them deciding that I was in fact 12 years old and deploying a running theme of jokes around the subject for the duration of the run. They didn’t even rip into me too much when I walked into a pole. Yup.

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All smiles at the start. Thanks to Nigel for the photo! 

As we settled halfway into the crowd waiting at the start line, the nerves began to give way to excitement. The feeling for this race is SO different to say a half marathon, where I always think about my PB and whether or not I’m going to beat it. With this run, you don’t really know how far you’re going to get, and any plans I had (a half marathon would have been lovely) went out the window once the mercury started edging 30 degrees. So it was a case of just start running, and see what happens.

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And that’s just what we did. Setting off and weaving through the city, going past the colleges and being cheered on by the frankly awesome folk of Cambridge, we headed up and out towards Girton, hitting Oakington and finally Cottenham. I cannot begin to thank the brilliant people of these villages who handed out sweets, drinks and who hosed us down with water. Oh the blessed relief of those hosepipes. It really was the best thing ever. And the WFL organisers did an absolutely bang up job of making sure the refreshment stations were regular. I grabbed water at every one, and finished the bottle nearly every time, pouring it on my legs (a brilliant tip from Miranda) and gulping huge mouthfuls. Normally if someone was to chuck a load of water at my back I would be somewhat annoyed at them but when Ros did it I could have kissed her. I swear my skin sizzled.

When we got to around the 13k mark, we adopted something of a run/walk strategy, taking maybe 20 – 30 seconds to catch our breath before setting off again (a strategy even the male winner, Steve Way, had to adopt towards the end of his incredible 63.75km run – read his race report, it’s brilliant). The heat really had started to push our resilience by this point, but when we hit Cottenham and saw Miranda and Ros’ other halves it gave us such a boost to keep going, and we made it out of the village and into the next stretch of quiet farmland. Wilburton was never realistically on the cards for us, but when we heard that the catcher car was in the distance, we did our utmost to hit the 11 mile mark, finally making 11.12 (17.89km) before a grinning David Coulthard passed us by, waving as he went.

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Helloooooo Cottenham!

Suddenly it was over, and we had something like a 10 minute walk to reach the buses that were waiting every 5k to take runners back to Parker’s Piece. It was such a lovely walk, mooching through the quiet countryside as we reflected on what we’d achieved and chatting to our fellow runners. But then sitting on that bus, waiting for it to leave, was probably the hottest we’d been all day – it was like a sauna with lots of people who had been sweating for a copious amount of time. Imagine that if you’re so inclined. But when it set off and the breeze started coming through the window it was utter bliss.

Back on Parker’s Piece we picked up our frankly awesome goodie bags (containing our medal, a high vis technical tee, microfibre towel, sweatband, pack of nuts and a beer token),  grabbed our beers and headed over to Trumpington Road to meet our ride home (my OH). We couldn’t stop raving about what a brilliant race it had been and mild sunburn aside (only patches on my arm where the factor 50 had been hosed off – worth it!), I think this was the funnest race I’ve ever done. So much so that I’ve already signed up for next year, which is so unlike me.

So if you’re looking for a race with a twist, this is the one for you. 100% of the entry fee goes to spinal cord research and the current early bird price is only £25, which I think is a brilliant price now that I’ve seen just how much effort goes into this run. So what are you waiting for? Go sign up. I’m sure it’ll be cooler next year……

What I wish I knew when I started running

So this weekend I went to Germany for 24 hours to surprise one of my best friends for her Hen Party. It was an insane whistle-stop tour taking in Frankfurt, Viernheim and Mainz, and for anyone who knows me, this is a big deal, because I hate to fly. I mean REALLY hate to fly. And I hate to fly with a certain Irish airline most of all. I’m only a little bit ashamed to admit that there were tears during take off on the way out. They may have been exacerbated by the glass of champagne I had at the airport to “calm my nerves”.

Now I’m sure you’re all wondering “what’s this got to do with running? Are you going all travel blog on me?” No, wait – hear me out. It was the Mainz marathon this weekend…..

But that’s got nothing to do with it either. That was just a coincidence. Are you crazy? I don’t do marathons (yet).

No, the inspiration for this blog post comes from a fellow-passenger on the flight home, aka THE WORLD’S MOST CHATTY SLASH SOCIALLY INEPT MAN.

Bless his heart. There’s a possibility he was trying to distract me from my fear of flying, but after he told me how he’d “graffiti-ed the toilet” when he took a mid-flight comfort break (better core strength might have prevented that), I think he was just severely lacking in “social barriers”.

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Core strength is a runner’s friend

I mean at one point I turned my back to him and held my magazine right up to my face and he still kept on chatting. And I take after my dad – I’ll generally chat to everyone rather than offend them in any way, but I was seriously at the end of my tether when he asked me how I had found the pound versus the euro and then proceeded to complain about his onset of manboobs (his words, not mine).

And here’s the point of this blog post – we somehow got on to he subject of running and he started to ask my advice, which made me think I should share the three things I wish I’d known when I started running.

1. Breathing is EVERYTHING

When I first started running my breathing was all over the place. I would do anything just to get breath into my lungs, taking great erratic gulps until I got a stitch in my stomach that felt like it would split me in half and force me to stop. Then I got my hands on The Complete Book of Running for Women by Claire Kowalchik, and it changed everything. Even though the book was published in 1999, everything it says (with the exception of tape players – keep up kids – and the lack of fitness/tracking gadgets) is still completely relevant.

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Awesome shorts optional

The section on “rhythmic breathing” is what did it for me. This is where you coordinate your breathing with your stride in a 3:2 ratio (or 2:1 for faster runs), so this means you inhale for 3 steps and exhale for 2. The thinking behind this is that you hit the ground with the greatest force at the beginning of the exhalation, so by making sure this happens on alternate legs each time means the stress on your body is spread out, rather than only happening on one side, which is what is going to give you a stitch. It takes a little while to get used to it but I guarantee that in a couple of weeks it’ll be second nature, and you’ll never look back. Plus I know from my own experience that during long races, when I start “hitting the wall”, I simply forget about the pain I’m feeling and focus on my breathing. That soon gets me back on track.

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Order this immediately

2. Get Your Gait Analysed

This is one of the things “socially awkward man” asked me on the plane. Is getting your “feet looked at” worth it? My answer to this is always YES. For a long time I wore Asics as they had always been my preferred trainers mainly due to my liking the way they looked (vacuous, moi?). However they tend to be pretty narrow in the mid-section, and I found that on longer runs my feet were obviously swelling and had no room to fully expand. Then after I did my IT band in (more on that another time), I was advised to get my gait analysed. This involves running on a treadmill and watching the footage back in slow motion to see how you land on your foot, and whether you’re a neutral runner of whether you under or over-pronate and therefore need trainers that will correct this.

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Not my legs. Someone else’s legs

If I’m honest I thought it was just a way for shops to sell you the most expensive pair of trainers on the shelf, but I figured I had nothing to lose so I gave it a go, and I’ve been a Brooks Adrenaline GTS girl ever since. And guess what? No more IT band issues (and they helpfully look AWESOME too). Plus you’re spoilt for choice in Cambridge with Hobbs Sports, Up & Running and Advance Performance all offering Gait Analysis (although when you go you should be intending to buy your trainers from them rather than just exploiting their service)! Just be prepared for the fact that you may catch a glimpse of your bum in slow motion. Rarely flattering.

3. Make the Foam Roller Your Best Friend

Ever since I did my IT band in, I’ve foam rolled it regularly to prevent it from getting too tight. However, I neglected the rest of my legs and when I strained a tendon and ligament in my foot after the Cambridge Half Marathon, my screamingly tight calves suggested that I needed to step up my foam rolling game, sharpish. So now I foam roll all of the muscles in each leg for 10-15 minutes every day, usually whilst watching cat videos on my tablet (don’t judge me).

Foam rolling is much like a sports massage, and every time you hit a sore spot you just have to toughen up and keep your weight on it for 30-60 seconds until you feel it easing up. There are loads of online tutorials for foam rolling specific muscles, and it’s a fairly inexpensive bit of kit, but trust me – it’s one of the best habits you could possibly get in to. I cannot recommend it enough.

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Awesome leggings optional

So there you go – my list of must-dos for those new to running. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my time but hopefully with this blog post I can stop one or two other newbies from making the same ones.